I’ve been looking forward to this hike for such a long time, but I never seemed to muster up enough courage to try it out. Grizzly Lake, located at the top of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, is a demanding, yet rewarding hike. At about 8.75 miles, 4012 elevation gain AND 1591 elevation loss from China Gulch trailhead, it is a beast of a journey. And that’s just one-way. My roommate, the badass that she is, came along with me this last weekend to finally conquer the hike in an overnighter.
There are two routes to Grizzly Lake, but the more commonly used route starts at China Gulch trailhead, goes up over Hunter’s Camp, back down to Grizzly Creek, and then all the way back up and then some to reach the lake.
In every post that I read, everyone mentioned how much the climb up to Hunter’s Camp sucks, especially on the way out. I completely concur. It’s not so bad at the beginning, but the backside is a bitch. The ever steeper trail makes you wade through scratchy brush and hop across deadfall on the way down to Grizzly Creek.
The rest of the hike steadily climbs up to Grizzly Meadows, following the creek the whole way. There are many waterfalls within earshot and many good ones in sight on the way up.
Finally, around 6.5 miles, patches of meadow start to become visible near the trail. There are a lot of decent-looking campsites right on the creek. We, however, headed on until the very end of the meadow, where there is an amazing view of the waterfall at a huge campsite just across the creek.
The next morning, we went back and forth about how we were going to get to Grizzly Lake. I’d read that it wasn’t a trip that dogs could make, so we had to leave the pups unattended at camp (secured, of course). The climb to the top is about 1000 feet and .85 miles from the end of the meadow, where the path turns super bouldery. I made the mistake of taking us left way too early and we had to do a bit more rock climbing than the main trail would’ve had. There are cairns for three or four different paths, but the best one is the one that’s visible from the meadow winding through the green brush.
Eventually, we found our way to the rim of the bowl that Grizzly Lake occupies. It was an amazing payoff with turquoise blue waters and sheer granite cliffs. The geology of the place is set up just so that the lake’s only outlet is a 600-foot waterfall that falls dramatically to the canyon below. Someone told me that you can literally straddle the outlet and look over the edge — and you can! I have a terrible fear of heights, so I tried not to get too close, but it took my breath away.
After getting back to camp, eating, and packing, we made the long journey back to the car. As anticipated, Hunter’s Camp was still a bitch, probably moreso than on the way in. But my roommate and I agreed that the memory of Hunter’s Camp and sore feet will fade while the impact of being in that beautiful place will never go away.